Even as COVID cases rise, mask mandates remain on hold


NEW YORK – A rise in COVID-19 infections in the United States has sent more cities into new high-risk categories that are supposed to trigger the wearing of indoor masks, but much of the country is stopping before bring back restrictions amid deep pandemic fatigue.

For weeks, much of upstate New York has been in the orange high alert zone, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designation that reflects severe community spread. The CDC is urging people to mask up in indoor public places, including schools, regardless of their vaccination status. But few, if any, local jurisdictions in the region have brought back a mask requirement despite rising case numbers.

In New York, cases are rising again and crossed the city’s ‘medium risk’ threshold this week, indicating the widening spread of the subvariant known as BA.2 that has swept north of State. But Mayor Eric Adams appears to have little appetite for an about-face just months after allowing residents to discard masks and put away vaccination cards that were once required to enter restaurants and concert halls. . Adams said the city could pivot and reimpose mandates, but stressed he wanted to keep the city open.

“I don’t foresee many places, if any, going back to mask mandates unless we see overwhelmed hospitals – that’s what would lead to mask mandates,” said expert Prof David Larsen. in public health at Syracuse University in upstate New York, whose own county is currently an orange zone.

“People are still dying, but not in the same numbers,” he said.

Nationally, hospitalizations are up slightly, but still as low as at any time during the pandemic. Deaths have steadily declined over the past three months to near record lows.

The muted response reflects the country’s exhaustion after two years of restrictions and the new challenges facing health officials at this phase of the pandemic.

An abundance of home virus testing kits has led to a significant undercount of COVID-19 cases that were once an important benchmark. Researchers estimate that more than 60% of the country was infected with the virus during the omicron surge, providing high levels of protection in addition to tens of millions of vaccinations. Hospitalizations increased but only slightly.

“If a mask mandate were reinstated right now, I don’t think it would be very successful,” said Jim Kearns, a videographer at the State University of New York in Oswego, another northern community. New York State in the CDC Orange Zone. .

“I think a lot of people are just done,” he said. “If I saw death rates and hospitalizations rising insane numbers, and if I felt there was danger to me and my family, I would put it down in a heartbeat. But it’s been two long years.

In Boston, even as COVID-19 cases have started to rise again, there has been little willingness to reimpose the indoor mask mandate that city officials largely lifted two months ago. Boston still requires masks in schools and on school buses. A statewide mask mandate was lifted for schools in late February.

The city is now focusing on what Boston Mayor Michelle Wu described as recovery efforts, including attracting workers and visitors to downtown. Health officials continue to urge caution. During April’s Boston Marathon race, which drew tens of thousands of competitors, race organizers and city officials recommended runners take steps to stop the spread of the virus by getting vaccinating, testing for COVID-19 and not accepting water from spectators.

In Maine, there has been little effort to reinstate COVID-19 precautions, even after Governor Janet Mills tested positive for COVID-19 in late April. The 74-year-old, who had received a second booster, said she thought it was ‘one of the reasons I still felt good’ and encouraged others to get the shot.

One of the most shocking reactions came in Philadelphia, which last month dropped its indoor mask mandate just days after becoming the first US metropolis to reimpose mandatory masking in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases. and hospitalizations.

City officials, who had said they wanted to avoid a new wave of infections, abruptly backtracked after what they said was an unexpected drop in the number of people in hospital and a leveling off in new infections. The reversal came amid growing opposition to reinstatement, but city officials said the decision was about data, not politics.

The cities’ inaction comes after a federal judge in Florida last month overturned a nationwide mask mandate for travelers on planes, trains and buses. The CDC is still urging people to wear face coverings, but the Transportation Security Administration has said it will stop enforcing mask mandates at airports and on flights, even though the White House has said it will. appeal the decision.

In March, Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, ended its indoor mask mandate following a drop in COVID-19 cases. Burlington was one of more than two dozen communities in Vermont that needed to be masked after the November Legislature gave cities the power to do so. Even when the masks pulled back, COVID made a comeback in the state.

Half of Vermont’s 14 counties have now been classified as having high community levels of COVID-19, according to the CDC. The ranking is based on a handful of factors, including new hospital admissions for the virus.

Chicago’s infection rate is also rising, though, like most places, hospitalizations and deaths remain low.

But the growing number of infections has caused enough concern that the school district sent a letter to parents alerting them to the possibility that with the increase, Cook County, which includes Chicago, “may go from a “low risk” to a “moderate risk” category in the coming days.

The letter did not say whether the school district could again require students and staff to wear masks or return to remote learning.

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